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Exquisites 2005: Films Of The Year

William Castle kicks off his biography, Step Right Up! I’m Going To Scare The Pants Off America!, with an age old question. What attracts people to horror films? Why do they like to be scared? Castle chalks it up to a suspension of disbelief. There’s a comfort in knowing that the nightmare is happening to someone else and that we, the audience, are free to indulge in the thrill of it all. Makes sense. Especially if you’re watching something like Rosemary’s Baby. Or Black Devil Doll From Hell.

Vintage trash-horror films are the epitome of thrill-seeking cinema. They offer a constant barrage of glaring opposites, usually within the same film. Hilarity and chills, intellect and stupidity, gore and subtlety — anything is fair game. That’s an attractive quality not so far removed from Castle’s realm of gimmick-tinged films. There was a mysterious “me against the world” charm inherent in nearly every no-budget film produced before 1990 that will never exist again. Information was harder to come by back then. People were less informed. As a result, each film was a true representation of the minds behind it, no matter how sincere, feigned, inept, marvelous, or boring the end results might be. That’s the cusp of individuality. That’s why the exploration of vintage trash films will forever be a source of happiness, relaxation, and thrills. More than any previous year, 2005 epitomized these feelings.

Listed below are the top ten trash-horror films I viewed for the first time during the past year. As always, the formats and presentations are irrelevant, forever giving way to each film’s “experience.” That’s just the way it is. As the DVD floodgates open, I can’t help but smile. Digital trash revelations are beginning to rival the VHS flood of the early 80s and that’s good news for the entire world. Let’s munch out!

10. The Mummy And The Curse Of The Jackal (1969)
Academy VHS / Full Review
“If being a doddering old fart allows you to concoct a plotless hallucination of surf instrumentals, next door neighbor monsters, and home enthusiast film skills, please point me towards the time machine. The incompetence on display is a watershed.”

09. Axe (1977)
Something Weird DVD / Full Review
“Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Axe shines like the grimy nugget it was meant to be. The success of the film lies in its musty, off-kilter brevity…a great example of low-budget brackets working as an advantage, rather than a detractor.”

08. Brain Of Blood (1972)
Image Entertainment DVD / Full Review
“This is not your typical Al Adamson film — this is THE Al Adamson film. With Hemisphere’s Brain Of Blood, he and Sam Sherman manage to distill what those charms are all about: making the most with your available budget. Brain delivers in spades, spazzily shot and somehow effective.”

07. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Warner Brothers VHS / Full Review
“When something’s done right, it’s done right. There’s no need to question it. A blunt and unnerving film, despite its feeble shortcomings. The facts of the case itself are enough to spook you…it’s a testament to director Pierce’s decisions on a technical level that really make this film successful.”

06. Ogroff (1983)
DVD-R
“N.G. Mount’s debut feature is an evil fairy tale from a warped mind, a gore soaked series of creepy tangents that only make sense as the entire movie unfolds. Out of control? Disturbing? Unbelievable? Hilarious? All apt descriptors, yet none fully convey the experience that is Ogroff.”

05. Frightmare (1974)
Image Entertainment DVD / Full Review
Frightmare is a marvel of effectively layered techniques. The combination of unquestionable creepiness and admirable intelligence adds up to a rare bird indeed. Be thankful for this one — horror films with this much power are few and far between.”

04. Moonshiner’s Woman (1968)
Something Weird DVD-R / Full Review
“Part public service announcement, part family travelogue, part hilarious crime expose. All (just barely) held together with cheap masking tape and a whole lot of narration. A gem of slanted cheapness that can never be bought or planned on — funny, surreal, and positively strange.”

03. Satan’s Black Wedding (1975)
Retro Shock-O-Rama/ei Cinema DVD / Full Review
“With its warbly piano score, picture postcard locations, and abrupt climax, Satan’s Black Wedding feels like a self-contained slice of a bigger pie that doesn’t exist. We jump right in with the bloody shock of the opening minutes and the displacement doesn’t let up…creepy and amateurishly fresh, even thirty years later.”

02. The Thrill Killers (1964)
Media Blasters DVD / Full Review
The Thrill Killers does the impossible. While radiating innocent charm through its use of bongo-fied music and small scale sets, the film pulls off a feat which very few intentional horror films from this era can still accomplish: it’s unsettling. It’s a portal into 1964 and a celebration of what makes vintage, low budget horror movies so endearing and comforting.”

01. The Last Slumber Party (1987)
United Home Video VHS / Full review
The Last Slumber Party is a landmark in American trash filmmaking, a completely disconnected 72 minutes that I could have easily watched for six hours. Regardless of the filmmakers’ original intentions, they’ve succeeded in crafting one of the most surreal, hilarious, and unbelievably perfect 80s trash films of all time. Get ready for a new champeen.”

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